This is the third time I’ve linked this site in my writing for UMT. If you’ve been reading, you’ll recall that it is an archive of racists incidents on college campuses nationwide collected by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. The list was recently updated with now notorious incident at the University of Hartford where student Briana Brochu, who is white, was arrested for harassing her black roommate, Chennel “Jazzy” Rowe, for over month in a number of truly disturbing and disgusting ways. Briana was helpful (read: dumb) enough to document her crimes and has now been expelled and charged with a hate crime or “intimidation based on bigotry or bias”.
When we talk about sending students off to college, the tendency of course, is to focus on the numerous beneficial aspects–educational attainment, (hopefully) securing a financially sound future, adventure, maturity, etc. However, this optimistic outlook does a disservice to young people who are entering campuses, which, along with fancy new gyms, labs and technology incubators, also come with a heightened risk of depression, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and incidents of sexual assault and bullying/harassment. The developmental, psychological, social and spiritual vulnerability of college students is clearly documented throughout many studies and academic journals. New college students are at heightened risk for chronic stress and depression, and students of color are at an even greater disadvantage for various reasons. From professor suspicions of cheating when they perform well academically, reluctance of white peers to select them for group projects, and assumptions of reliance upon financial aid and affirmative action to gain admission, black students reported feeling “drained” from these racially infused interactions. Police aggression was also cited by black students who claimed double standards and increased surveillance during their public events as opposed to their white peers. And in the face of all of this, black students must also often contend with a lack support from university administration. Professor and higher education expert William Tierney noted white higher education professionals’ tendency to label minority group inclusion within academia as a “problem”. The problem is seen as failure to assimilate into the institution rather than the institution expanding and honoring cultural inclusively.
Which brings me back to the incident at the University of Hartford. When you add a radicalized component to the often precarious nature of roommate assignments, once again, many students of color find that their new “homes” can be very unwelcoming and hostile (see here, here, and here). Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Shaun Harper, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, said “The research is really clear on this: when students have roommates from another racial group, there are all sorts of educational benefits and gains associated with it,” he said. “Where I think this falls apart though, is that … simply pairing a white woman and a black woman together in a rooming situation does not magically guarantee that those educational benefits that are associated with interracial roommate relationships will be actualized.”
Without greater context, I cannot say for sure what benefits he’s referring to, however my hunch is that it pertains to white students interactions with students of color having the potential to make them a little less racist. This adds the unnecessary and daunting burden of emotional labor on students of color who are already contending with so many stressors and inadequate support. Faced with these realities, HBCU applications and enrollment are up and students are speaking up as a means of self-preservation. And even for black students who against all of these odds, choose to attend predominantly white institutions (PWI) or room with diverse roommates, the renowned history of black resilience and perseverance is in many cases enough to see many of them through to graduation. I just wish that wasn’t so often the only thing they can rely upon.
Shanna K Houser Contributor